Warren Gatland has urged a new-look Wales to “go out there with no fear” when they launch their Six Nations Championship campaign at home to a Scotland side desperate to end a 22-year losing streak in Cardiff.
Injuries, post-World Cup international retirements — and in the case of wing Louis Rees-Zammit a decision to try to forge a career in American football — have deprived Wales coach Gatland of several senior players, with George North, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau also among those who will be missing at the Principality Stadium this weekend.
Gatland has responded by handing Cardiff full-back Cameron Winnett a Test debut after just 15 games of professional rugby and by appointing 21-year-old lock Dafydd Jenkins as Wales’ youngest captain since scrum-half great Gareth Edwards back in 1968.
Wales reached the quarter-finals of last year’s World Cup in France, losing 29-17 to Argentina, whereas Scotland failed to get out of a tough pool also featuring eventual champions South Africa and reigning Six Nations Grand Slam kings Ireland.
But more significantly in a Championship where away triumphs are traditionally tough to come by, Scotland have lost their last 11 games against Wales in Cardiff — a run that includes nine Six Nations clashes, a World Cup warm-up fixture and an Autumn international.
“We are at home and Scotland haven’t won here in Cardiff for a long time,” said Gatland.
“I am really excited about this group that we’ve got, building with some youngsters who I think are really going to grow, develop and impress…I think they can go out there with no fear with the way they have prepared.”
Owen Watkin and Nick Tompkins will form Wales centre pairing in the absence of the injured North, while back-row forward Jim Botham — grandson of England cricket great Ian Botham — is set for a first Wales appearance in nearly three years.
Scotland last defeated Wales in Cardiff back in 2002, when head coach Gregor Townsend was their fly-half in a 27-22 success he recalled: “wasn’t a great game to play in, but I have more fond memories of now”.
The Scots, however, did triumph on Welsh soil with a 2020 win in Llanelli in a Covid-affected contest.
“You have defeats and wins in your Test career and the one against Ireland (the 36-14 loss at the World Cup in October) is more in our minds than the one two years ago (a 20-17 reverse in Cardiff), and certainly those 10 or 20 years before that,” said Townsend.
The retractable roof at the 74,500-capacity Principality Stadium will be left open at Scotland’s request — Six Nations regulations state both sides must agree to have it closed.
There is a belief that the rain forecast for the 1645 GMT kick-off could aid Scotland but Townsend, who favours dry conditions, said there were other factors in his decision.
“It’s noisier when the roof’s closed, that’s why they (Wales) are disappointed. They don’t get that (advantage),” he explained.
Townsend added: “You play rugby at every other ground that doesn’t have a roof. So you play in the dry and the wet.
“If it’s a wet day it will be trickier to move the ball, but I have confidence our players can do that, or find another way to put pressure on the opposition through defence and a kicking game.”
Scotland will be without full-back Blair Kinghorn, who suffered a knee injury playing for Toulouse, with Kyle Rowe — normally a wing — making his first Test start.
Fly-half Finn Russell will lead Scotland after recently-appointed co-captain Rory Darge was ruled out with a knee injury.
World Cup News
/ 17 hours ago
Saudi Arabia formally launched its bid to host the 2034 World Cup on Friday,...
/ 3 months ago
FIFA on Saturday confirmed that three bids to host the Women’s World Cup in...